“MEAN­ING OF LIFE” (At­lantic Records)

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Music - Review:

What's that great sound on Kelly Clark­son's new al­bum? It's proud, it's sexy, it's funny. Oh, yes, that's the sound of free­dom. On "Mean­ing of Life," her first al­bum since leav­ing long-time home Sony, the for­mer "Amer­i­can Idol" win­ner seems lib­er­ated, more soul­ful and less poppy. In­de­pen­dence def­i­nitely suits her.

"Thought I could never leave?" she sings on the ter­rific "I Don't Think About You," which is a breakup song that could eas­ily ap­ply to her for­mer em­ploy­ers. "Af­ter all that I've been through, nothin' left to prove."

Her last al­bum, 2015's "Piece by Piece," was al­most mourn­ful in con­trast to the 14-track "Mean­ing of Life," which is brim­ming with hu­mor, sass and light. It's not hard to imag­ine Clark­son smil­ing a lot in the record­ing stu­dio.

"I'm hot­ter than your mama's sup­per, boy," she teases in "Whole Lotta Woman," a bluesy, foot-stom­per that bor­rows the horn sec­tion from Earth, Wind & Fire and might steam up your mir­rors. "Hold on tight lit­tle coun­try boy/I ain't no girl/I'm a boss with or­ders."

From the boot-stomp­ing "Love So Soft" to the con­cen­trated emo­tion in "Move You" and the bluesy "Cruel," Clark­son's voice hasn't sounded bet­ter, soar­ing into Christina Aguil­era ter­ri­tory with its subtlety, twists and stamina.

She re­unites with pro­ducer Greg Kurstin — who has crafted hits for Clark­son, Adele, Sia and Pink — on the new at­mo­spheric club tune "Would You Call That Love" and Clark­son el­e­vates it to some­thing higher. On "Go High," she takes a Michelle Obama slo­gan — "When they go low, we go high" — and ap­plies it to her­self (and, nat­u­rally, her voice goes wicked high.)

There's sim­ply no filler on her eighth stu­dio al­bum, her first with At­lantic Records. It opens with a song frag­ment in which Clark­son begs for some down time, "a minute just for me." Once that's over, it's just Clark­son un­leashed.

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